State High Court To Hear Harrelson Case!

State High Court To Hear Harrelson Case!
Posted by FoM on June 12, 1999 at 07:52:47 PT
Source: Lexington Herald Leader
The Kentucky Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear actor Woody Harrelson's case, which challenges Kentucky law that classifies hemp as marijuana.
Hemp activists think this could give them a chance to grow a crop they say could do wonders for the state's economy. "Our whole goal is to get a ruling on the constitutionality of the law defining hemp as marijuana," said Charles E. Beal II of Lexington, Harrelson's attorney. "What we're saying is that the definition of marijuana is too broad and takes in hemp, also. Hemp and marijuana are two separate subspecies of the same plant." A favorable ruling would mean "there's no law against growing hemp in Kentucky," said Joe Hickey, Executive Director of the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association. Oral arguments could be heard as early as September, with a decision possible within six months.Beal wasn't sure whether the actor would make the courtroom scene. "Generally, in oral arguments, parties aren't present, but that's up to him," Beal said. In June 1996, Harrelson planted, with great media fanfare, four hemp seeds in Lee County. He was cited for marijuana possession, but Lee District Court found that the state law outlawing marijuana was too broad. Lee County Attorney Thomas P. Jones appealed the ruling. In November, the state Court of Appeals sent the case back to the district court, saying there was no provision for the prosecution to appeal an adverse ruling by a district judge. Jones, on behalf of the commonwealth, appealed that ruling. Jones will continue to prosecute the case although cases at this level are often taken over by the state attorney general's office. "I asked them to take the whole case, with all the issues, or to send the whole case back to the Court of Appeals," Jones said. "The good news, maybe even for both sides, is that they granted the review. ... I'm hopeful they're going to give us a decision that has some substance." What could happen now? Beal said the Supreme Court could agree with the appeals court, which would send the case back to Lee District Court, where Harrelson would likely win his case. The Supreme Court also could agree that the marijuana statute is unconstitutional, again supporting Harrelson. If that happens, "there would be some argument that it would be legal to grow hemp in Kentucky," Beal said. Hickey was more direct. "It means we may not have to wait for legislation," he said.The co-op has lobbied for changes in the law and last year filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Drug Enforcement Administration's prohibition against growing hemp. U.S. District Judge Karl S. Forester dismissed the suit in March but acknowledged the farmers' frustrating position, caught between federal and state law. "As it stands now, Kentucky law must change if plaintiffs ever want to grow hemp in Kentucky," Forester wrote.State law has been changed elsewhere -- North Dakota, Minnesota and Hawaii have passed laws supporting their farmers' right to grow hemp, the same right Kentucky farmers are looking for. "Then we will fall under federal guidelines. And with three states making it legal, I think that's about to change," Hickey said. "I don't see how the court can rule any other way, except in Woody's favor." But the Supreme Court could agree with the state that the marijuana statute is constitutional. In that case, Hickey said, "We would just continue to pursue legislation. We probably will regardless, so we can have rules and regulations in place when the federal government eases restrictions." Harrelson, Jones said, is "back in the hot seat. The question then becomes whether he possessed marijuana ... which he's confessed to on TV." 
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